The media consensus was that Alistair Darling scored a convincing win last week, in the first “televised” debate on Scottish independence. I’m not so sure. Yes, the Former Chancellor, now leading the Better Together campaign to keep Scotland in the UK, did well. Conversely, First Minister Alex Salmond, who’s spent a lifetime campaigning for independence, was often on the ropes. This was a surprise, given the SNP Leader’s usually razor-sharp debating skills.
Yet, with less than six weeks to go before Scotland votes, the ballot could still go either way. While Darling indeed appeared to fare better in the debate, a pair of Ipsos Mori polls found the No-vote remained static before and after the verbal tussle, while support for the pro-independence Yes-camp rose four percentage points to 40pc. A post-debate ICM poll put the two sides even closer, with 42pc signaling they’d vote to break-up the union, compared to 47pc against.
An opinion poll released by Channel Four News this weekend suggested that 51pc of Scots are planning to say “No” in the independence referendum on September 18. In other words, the vote looks extremely close. The “Better Together” camp, which is supposed to be campaigning to keep the UK in tact, is spinning that this display of “majority support” is good news. If only that were so. Just a year ago, the numbers wanting to stay in the UK were far higher – typically around 65pc of the Scottish electorate. And a few recent polls have even shown the share of Scots backing continued UK membership dipping below 50pc.
I’m against Scottish independence. In fact, I’m horrified at the prospect of our country breaking-up. While the Westminster village remains complacent, the ghastly reality is that over 300 years of history could be obliterated during the late summer of 2014. While the UK is four distinct countries, each with its own proud identity, we’re one coherent nation. Cobbled together, in a form that somehow works, our joint history of achievement and success is as rich as any on earth. And the spine of our unique and precious arrangement is the England-Scotland axis, enshrined in the 1707 Act of Union.